Named the University of Cincinnati's head football coach on Dec. 4, 2006, Brian Kelly has set the bar high at UC and achieved a great deal of success in a short period of time.
Entering his third year at the helm of the UC program, Kelly boasts a 22-6 record and led the Bearcats to their first BIG EAST Conference Championship in 2008.
Cincinnati achieved a school-record 11 victories in 2008, had back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time in school history, won the school's first outright conference championship since 1964, and earned the school's first berth in a Bowl Championship Series game, playing against Virginia Tech in the 75th FedEx Orange Bowl.
UC achieved its best-ever ranking to close the regular season. The Bearcats were ranked at No. 12 in the Associated Press poll, USA Today Coaches poll, and the BCS standings entering the Orange Bowl. The Bearcats held down a postseason ranking of No. 17 in both polls, tying the top postseason ranking in school history and the first time UC has ranked in the end-of-season polls in school history.
UC finished the regular season on a six-game winning streak and for the first time captured all three of its rivalry trophies, the Victory Bell (Miami [OH]), Keg Of Nails (Louisville), and River City Rivalry (Pittsburgh) in the same season.
Following the close of the regular season, Kelly was named the BIG EAST Coach of the Year for the second-straight season. He also was named the American Football Monthly Schutt Sports Football Bowl Subdivision Coach of the Year and earned American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Region 1 Coach of the Year honors, and was named BIG EAST Coach of the Year by The Sporting News.
UC placed 10 student-athletes on the all-BIG EAST teams, including first-team selection Connor Barwin, who was a tight end entering spring practice in 2008.
Kick returner Mardy Gilyard was named the BIG EAST Special Teams Player of the Year and punter Kevin Huber earned the first AFCA All-America nod in program history. Huber was also the first two-time Associated Press First-Team All-America selection in UC football history.
Through an 18-year head coaching career, he has established a reputation for building winning teams. He has won at every stop along the way, earning a pair of Division II National Championships at Grand Valley State (2002, 2003), winning a Mid-American Conference Championship at Central Michigan in 2006 before leading UC to its first BIG EAST title in 2008. Entering the year, Kelly ranked 12th among active Football Bowl Subdivision head coaches with a record of 148-54-2. He is the winningest active BIG EAST coach and the only league coach with more than 150 wins.
During a whirlwind first month on the job at UC, Kelly proved that he was up to the challenge. While preparing his new team for the inaugural International Bowl, he also managed to complete his coaching staff and fill out a talent-rich recruiting class. The Bearcats' 27-24 bowl victory over Western Michigan, just 34 days after his hiring, was the icing on the cake for a coach who never missed a beat.
In his first full season at the helm, Kelly put the Bearcats on the national radar by jumping out to a 6-0 start and earning the Bearcats their first appearance in the Top 25 in more than 30 years. Winning 10 games for the first time since 1951, the Bearcats earned their 10th bowl appearance in program history and sixth bowl appearance in eight years. UC finished at No. 17 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, earning its first appearance in a final poll.
Along the way to the 2007 Papajohns.com Bowl victory, UC's third straight bowl win, Kelly earned BIG EAST Coach of the Year honors. Cincinnati listed seven individuals on the all-BIG EAST teams, including Special Teams Player of the Year and consensus all-America punter Kevin Huber. The national leader in punting, Huber was one of three Bearcats to be named to an all-America team.
While many coaches lecture on the virtue of possession time, Kelly stresses up-tempo play on both sides of the ball, using each practice to make his point. Armed with his no-huddle offense and the philosophy of a defense that must play 60 minutes, the Bearcats' mentor brings a different attitude to each workout.
Kelly's formula for success starts with an imaginative offense. Despite being forced to use five quarterbacks in 2008, UC ranked second in the BIG EAST and 24th nationally in passing offense (254.1), and was also second in the league and 27th nationally in passing efficiency (139.4). At the same time, UC's defense led the BIG EAST in sacks (2.9), and tackles for a loss (6.5).
Kelly also believes in a strong special teams unit with starters from both sides of the ball participating. The Bearcats led the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) in net punting with an average of 41.5 yards per punt. UC also led the BIG EAST in kickoff returns (24.2).
A program builder, Kelly proved that he can work magic in a short period of time. During his three years at Central Michigan, he transformed a Chippewas program that had won more than three games only once in the past four seasons into a conference champion. They posted a 9-4 record in 2006 en route to winning the MAC Championship and qualifying for their first bowl game in 12 years.
Kelly inherited a program that had produced a mere 12 wins over its previous four seasons when he took the helm at Central Michigan in 2004. He guided the Chippewas to a 4-7 record in 2004 and a 6-5 slate--the school's first winning season in seven years--in 2005.
CMU began to take on Kelly's persona in 2005. The Chippewas defeated both defending MAC divisional champions, Miami (OH) and Toledo, and also knocked off the league's eventual 2005 champ Akron. Central Michigan was ranked 35th nationally in total offense and 26th in passing offense while the team's rushing defense was ranked 20th.
Kelly's 2006 Chippewas lost non-conference contests to bowl-bound Boston College and Kentucky by a total of 16 points. CMU rolled up a 7-1 record in conference play to win the MAC West, then dominated Ohio, 31-10, in the league's championship game. Central Michigan boasted the 19th-most prolific passing attack in the nation, averaging 252.4 yards per game, and was ranked 31st in total offense (380.2 yards per game) and 24th in scoring offense (29.6 points). Quarterback Dan LeFevour, a freshman who passed for 2,869 yards and 25 touchdowns, was ranked 20th in passing efficiency and 14th in total offense.
Kelly had 12 of his players achieve first-team all-conference honors over his three years at CMU and three advanced to the NFL.
Kelly arrived at Central Michigan after winning back-to-back NCAA Division II national titles at Grand Valley State. The Lakers were 41-2 in Kelly's final three seasons, at one point winning 32 consecutive games. Grand Valley State went 14-0 in 2002 en route to its first national title and was 14-1 in 2003 when it claimed its second crown. Kelly was named the AFCA Division II Coach of the Year after both seasons.
Kelly led the Lakers to five conference titles and six Division II playoff appearances in his 13 seasons at Grand Valley. The Lakers never finished lower than third in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletics Conference.
Kelly mentored a pair of finalists for the Harlon Hill Award, presented annually to the top player in Division II. Curt Anes won the award in 2002 after finishing runner-up in 2001, while Jeff Fox was third in the balloting in 1998. Both players were quarterbacks in Kelly's system.
Kelly's Grand Valley State players earned 77 all-America awards. Four players moved on to the NFL and another three to the Canadian Football League. His 2001 national runner-up squad set 77 NCAA, GLIAC, and school records, including the all-time Division II scoring record by averaging 58.4 points per game. The 2001 team also became the first Division II unit in 53 years to average more than 600 yards per game in total offense (600.8).
Grand Valley State followed up its record-shattering 2001 season by averaging 497.5 yards and 47.0 points during its undefeated 2002 national championship run. The 2003 team, meanwhile, was more noted for its defense. The Lakers defeated North Dakota, 10-3, in the 2003 national title game.
A native of Chelsea, Mass., Kelly attended St. John's Prep School in Danvers, Mass. He was a four-year letterwinner at Assumption College (Mass.) as a linebacker. After graduating from Assumption in 1983 with a bachelor's degree in political science, he served as linebackers coach, defensive coordinator, and softball coach from 1983-86 at Assumption.
Kelly joined the Grand Valley State staff in 1987 as a graduate assistant and defensive backs coach. He became the defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator in 1989 and took over as head coach in 1991. His first team finished 9-3 and qualified for the NCAA Playoffs.